Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh: Silence about Sin is a Sin

 Arabic original here.

Silence about Sin is a Sin

There is something worse than someone who commits sin. Someone who is content with sin, who regards it as something normal or natural is worse than someone who commits sin. All of us have fallen and fall into sin's trap, but we realize that by committing sin we are doing something contrary to the logic of what we believe in, so we must judge it and not fall into searching for ways to justify it or for something that will cause us to remain silent about someone who is committing it.

Saint Ambrose of Milan (d. 397) says, "One who is silent about injustice is a partner in injustice." We can say the same thing, substituting sin for injustice-- One who is silent about sin is a partner-- indeed, is implicated-- with those committing it.

If silence about sin is a sin, what of those who defend it? What about those who raise their voice in Christ's name to defend it? Indeed, it is incumbent upon us according to the tradition of the Church to love the sinner and hate the sin. But in no sense does our loving the sinner mean that we surpass his sin and turn a blind eye to its enormity. Our love for him means that we strive with all the power we have been granted and that we pray for him, for him to return to the right path and to walk in the path of repentance.

Butrus al-Bustani, in his dictionary Muhit al-Muhit quoting the Kulliyat of Abu al-Baqa', defines the word "apology" (عذر ) as follows: "An apology is when a person tries to erase his sins by saying 'I didn't do it' or 'I did it for such-and-such a reason' or 'I did it and will not again'. This third one is repentance." There are three kinds of apologies, then,  and not all of them are praiseworthy- only one is. An apology can be when a person who did something denies having done it, and this is bald-faced lying. An apology can justifying a great sin by minimizing it for churchly, patriotic or general human reasons and motivations. This is fleeing from facing the naked truth. An apology can also be repentance in the sense of openly confessing it and promising not to commit it again. This apology is perfect and praiseworthy. All repentance is an apology, but not every apology is repentance.

The author of al-Muhit says, "He apologized ( اعتذر ) for what he had done and by his action he demonstrated his apology. He justified himself." Apology can have the sense of self-justification. That is, creating justifications for having harmed others to the point of denying responsibility. Apologizing can also include lofty and noble arguments for doing something despicable and outrageous, and this is the greatest hypocrisy and blasphemy. It is blasphemy for someone to say that good is pure evil and  that evil is pure good or to attribute to God doing evil and to the devil doing good.

In Christianity, there is no apology except in the sense of repentance and not going back to commit what has been pardoned. In Christianity there is no apology that does not lead to reform. "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24). Standing at the altar-- that is, at the liturgy-- is an occasion for reform and repentance, not for confrontation and for excusing sins and mistakes. Christ's bema is not a pulpit for self-worship, but rather as the Apostle Peter when Christ performed the miracle of the wonderous catch before him and he cried out, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" (Luke 5:8). Peter benefited from the Lord's presence before him and he was not pleased with himself. Rather, he revealed how much of a sinner he was and repented, and this was the purpose of the miracle. The liturgy, which is an act of standing in Christ's presence, is an occasion for taking account of oneself, not for self-admiration for sins and offenses that have been committed.

In Christianity, there is not apologizing but rather compunction. The act of compunction, according to Bustani, means "regretting, sorrowing, repenting... doing something and then having revulsion at it." The Apostle Peter, after denying that he knew Christ and then revealing his sin "wept bitterly" (Luke 22:26). The pre-Islamic poet Labid almost matches the Gospel when he says, "One who has wept for a full moment has apologized." Peter did not try to justify what he did by saying that he was afraid that the Jews would seize him and that he would meet the same fate as his Teacher Christ the Lord. Rather, he was sorrowful and he regretted with all his heart. He confessed with conviction that he had sinned and he would never again deny Him.

Christ opened a new covenant between God and man, consisting of a new life based on continual repentance. One who has not expressed revulsion at the evils committed by his own hands has not yet seen repentance and has not become a child of the new covenant.

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